Participating in a volunteer vacation allows travellers to ‘do something good’ and enjoy new locations and challenges in places they might not otherwise visit.
Does the idea of taking a vacation where you can make a difference to the local people appeal? Have you ever thought of spending your holidays volunteering and assisting an underprivileged community or rebuilding after a natural disaster? Then a volunteer vacation – aka voluntourism – may be just what you want.
By combining a vacation and volunteering, you not only make a difference to the community you are visiting, but you will find yourself immersed in the local culture. But before you book the first flight to Africa you need to assess where and what type of volunteer travel will suit you best. It is important to take time to think about what is important to you, and more significantly, what you have to offer others.
First things first. If at all possible, it is preferable to volunteer on a project for which you have a strong interest or passion. If you believe passionately in the need for animal conservation, there are projects such as the conservation of the marine turtle populations of Sri Lanka where you can work with local community members to encourage a safe nesting beach. Or perhaps working on elephant conservation in Thailand, where you help shower, feed and keep the elephants’ living area clean and tidy may hold more appeal. Keep in mind that the work you do may be arduous and that there is no point in volunteering to work with an animal for which you have no empathy.
Perhaps humanitarian work is where your interests lie. Inevitably, there are always troubles happening somewhere in the world, due to natural disasters, wars or famines. Would you like to be involved with teaching or helping children? Or assist to rebuild homes destroyed by hurricanes or a tsunami?
While your intentions may be noble, the reality is that helping out in a developing nation or a war-torn country can be dangerous. You need to think carefully about whether you would be willing to live and work in a culture where the people's outlook may be completely different to your own.
Could you put up with less than luxurious accommodation or would you rather be in a hotel? And how important is running water and a flushing toilet?
Another important decision is which country you would like to visit and what time of the year you would prefer, as you will need to take into account whether you will be able to cope with the extreme weather conditions that occur. You will also need to think about how much time you actually want to spend volunteering on a project, compared with time spent sightseeing.
Probably the most important considerations are your own personality and skill set. Be honest with yourself, as you will be out of your comfort zone and often in some potentially risky situations. So will you be able to cope both physically and mentally?
Now that you have some idea of the where, when and what of your volunteer vacation options, it’s time to start your research. Visit websites that specialise in volunteer vacations. Many organisations run information sessions where you can talk to past participants.
Whatever you do, ask questions - by email or phone, or in person. Find out the support that is offered including pre-departure assistance with your travel arrangements and the help that you can access during your trip. Will you need any shots or vaccinations before you go? How much information on the project and the country is on offer?
Voluntourism is not a free ride. You will probably be expected to pay your fares, and your meals and accommodation will not necessarily be provided. Part of the cost of your voluntourism vacation may be to contribute a compulsory donation towards the charity.
And while an overseas voluntourism vacation sounds very exotic and exciting, don’t forget there are many worthwhile opportunities right here at home in Australia. Regardless of where and which project you choose, those who have already experienced a voluntourism vacation consider it a life-changing experience.
Websites to assist in planning a voluntourism holiday:
Responsible Travel Australia
Australian Volunteers International
Volunteer Abroad Programs, Global Vision International
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